“Life in the northern half of Africa’s most populous country is rarely observed by those on the outside: the louder, wealthier, Christian half of the country, often eclipses its (materially) poorer, Muslim cousins in the north” – from Jenny’s article.
With all the media attention on Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls in nothern Nigeria, the world is finally waking up to the problems that have been plaguing the country for a long time now. However, in all the discussions about these problems there is a lack of attention to the human face of life in northern Nigeria and I am frequently confronted by people making serious assumptions about the Muslim population.
In 2010 I went to Nigeria as a VSO volunteer. People kept asking me if I had finally lost my marbles. To be honest, given my lack of experience of Africa (Nigeria was my first) and all the stories I was being told, I did question my decision. But then I have never been one to do things the easy way and off I went to try and help encourage more girls into school. I ended up only being in the country for 3 months (bloody malaria) but the country has stuck with me. It was the first time I was confronted with a reality that totally contradicted the impression I had been given by the media and common stereotypes. Rather than a country of kidnappers, money-scammers, and religious fanatics, I found myself in a country where life is tough but everyone is joyful, friendly, resourceful, honest and accepting. I lived in the northern city of Kano where Sharia law takes precedence and the majority live an Islamic life. I was warned to take a multitude of precautions and to act in certain ways, yet never once did I feel unsafe or unaccepted despite being a white British educated woman wandering around, on many an occasion, at night.
I am so grateful for this short time I got to spend in northern Nigeria (and Nigeria as a whole) because not only did it reinforce my view that in order to know the truth about a place one must experience first hand, but Nigeria is now human to me. It is no longer about scaremongering headlines but it is full of faces and people and names, and a dynamic beautiful society in which a few bad apples are causing one heck of a lot of problems.
Given some of the comments made to me, or that I have overheard or read, I am keen to make sure people realise that most Muslims in the north are not the same as Boko Haram and do not deserve the reputation frequently given to them. Unlike many other countries in the news at the moment, there is a very small foreign population in Nigeria to send out messages of what life is really like there for the every day civilian and the struggles they are having to face. That’s all lost in a myriad of political and military analysis.
A fellow VSO volunteer, Jenny Fawson, who lived in Kaduna just south of me in Kano, wrote a great article for the Urban Times a while ago about what northern Nigeria is really like. She has continued her connection to Nigeria over the past few years and in fact her husband still works there, thus she is far more qualified (and skilled) to paint a real picture of what the human face of northern Nigeria really looks like beyond Bombs, Bullets, and Boko Haram.
“So it’s easy for the rest of the world to write off the half of the country with less of a voice as dangerous, scary and unstable. Meanwhile, Northern Nigerians go about their daily lives, in the only way they know how: with joy, laughter and optimism”.
I encourage everyone to read her article, and to encourage others to do so. Her piece gives a great inside perspective to life in the north of the country, to life having been lived in a country of political corruption, religious struggles, capitalisms weaknesses, and now life living with the fear of Boko Haram.